CHARLESTON - When Citadel veteran Dewitt Jones got his first look at the Bulldogs' new defensive end recruit last year, he knew the kid had a chance.
And why not? At 6-foot-5 and 233 pounds, Chris Billingslea had plenty of raw material.
"Definitely, I thought he could be good," said Jones, the Bulldogs' senior defensive end. "Chris has a lot of the attributes you look for in a defensive end - he's tall, has long arms, can move his feet quickly.
"He's going to be a great player, and he's already developing into one this year. I think the sky's the limit for him."
Never miss a local story.
Billingslea, a redshirt freshman from Fort Mill, now weighs about 240 and already has moved into the starting lineup for the Bulldogs. Along with Jones and redshirt junior Erik Clanton, he provides The Citadel with a solid three-man rotation at defensive end.
So far, Billingslea has made 16 tackles and broken up a pass. In last week's 43-7 loss at Elon, he had five tackles and hurried quarterback Scott Riddle twice. And two weeks ago when The Citadel took Appalachian State to overtime, Billingslea collected three tackles and got his hand up to knock down an Armanti Edwards pass.
"Chris has a high motor and a tremendous work ethic," coach Kevin Higgins said. "He's a little raw right now, but he's really coming on for us."
Billingslea's father, Melvin, works for the York County Sheriff's Department and introduced him to football. But Melvin stands only about 5-6, and mom Ginger is 5-4. Chris said he gets his height from his grandfather, who is 6-7.
"My dad got the short end of the stick," Chris said.
Billingslea used that height to record an eye-popping 35.5 sacks and 87.5 tackles for loss during his career at Fort Mill High, and played on Fort Mill's 2007 state championship basketball team.
He made recruiting visits to South Carolina, North Carolina State, Wake Forest, Georgia Southern, Appalachian State and Wofford, but at about 220 pounds as a senior, he might have been a little skinny for some coaches.
"He was a little lean and we knew he needed to gain some strength," Higgins said. "So we were really excited to be able to redshirt him last year, get him in the weight room and then have four years with him."
Billingslea is paying immediate dividends, as he helps give Jones and Clanton a rest now and then.
"Last year, I would play 70 snaps and not come out much at all," Jones said. "Now, it gives us a chance to go harder and not worry about saving energy. If we get to where we are struggling, we can get out and rest. That's big for me, because I'm also playing on special teams."
Citadel coaches are hoping Billingslea can pack 20 or 30 more pounds on his frame by his senior year.
"We think he'll turn out to be a big, strong, physical kid," Higgins said. "And the most impressive thing is that he has good movement skills for his size. Typically, it's hard for us to find big guys who move as well as he does.
"He'll be a special one before it's all said and done."